Law is a social science

Law alumna Elisa Gebhard, 28, has ended up holding significant societal positions very early on in her career.

Social sciences include fields like political science, sociology, anthropology and social policy.

Elisa Gebhard, Master of Laws and alumna of the University of Helsinki, wanted to study law because she feels passionate about having impact on society. Law is also a social science, Gebhard says.

In states governed by the rule of law, law steers development, which can be seen in environmental issues, for instance. Legislation can be used for regulating such matters as the production, advertising and taxation of products that pollute the environment.

“If you want to influence how society develops, you should be familiar with the current legislation, how it needs to be changed and history as well. From the start of my studies, it was self-evident to me that laws do not develop or operate in a vacuum. It is impossible to detach legislation from the wider social framework,” Gebhard says.

By the age of 28, Gebhard has been involved in a variety of things in her career. She works at the Finnish Bar Association as a lawyer specialised in judicial policy. She is also a city councillor and a member of the City Board, representing the Social Democratic Party. Gebhard also chairs the State Youth Council. 

Earlier, she served as a special adviser to Prime Minister Sanna Marin and a parliamentary assistant to former Member of Parliament Jutta Urpilainen

“I consider myself lucky having known that I want to do work of significance for society both in my career and in positions of trust. Of course, it’s also okay to wander around and search for your own direction. I didn’t have any particular career plans either, but I’ve been trying to say yes to interesting opportunities.”

You will manage if you maintain your curiosity

What inspired Gebhard most in law studies was how calling things to question is built into the academic way of thinking.

“Things should not be taken as given, but instead you should try to figure them out yourself in the light of the information available. You can also call it curiosity and freedom to question your own earlier thinking. Through questioning things, you can develop your own thinking and, at the same time, your relationship with the surrounding world.”

Gebhard gives an example of her own life. 

There is only little freedom of choice in law studies curriculum. As Gebhard went to work early, she completed a large part of her studies alongside work, her motivation not always being at its highest. 

However, the optional course Gebhard took on animal rights during her master's degree studies influenced greatly the way she thinks.

“I didn’t take the course to build my professional competence but out of pure interest. The course showed me how people have increasingly begun to question the value of animals as mere means of production. Against this background, it was quite revolutionary for me to realise how little things have changed in practice.”

Academic studies provide you with skills to question things, new networks and factual competence, but not with an accurate career path.

What principle has Gebhard followed when building her own career path?

“Deep down, I’m a quite security-seeking person I've been making efforts to get rid of this feature. As far as my career is concerned, I realised quite early on that I must not get stuck in one place. Therefore, every now and then I must muster up the courage to do things that feel a little scary if their purpose is to carry me forward.”